July 26, 2009

The mistake of US military bases in Colombia, 17 JULY 2009, Sebastian Castaneda

Colombia’s sovereignty will be blatantly violated by the United States very soon. This will officially take place when the militarization process, which is euphemistically called “cooperation agreements”, allowing US troops to use Colombian bases, is signed. However, things have changed and this time the US has not invaded – or “liberated,” as it has been known since 2003 - Colombia. This agreement was conducted with explicit approval and self-interest of the national government.

The Colombian ruling class and their supporters have readily embraced this cooperation agreement that would give Carte Blanche with total immunity (or impunity) to US troops and civilian contractors for the utilization of three Colombian bases - the government had actually offered five - for an initial period of ten years. Other incentives may include exemption from environmental laws, paying for environmental damages, and clean up exercises, things that Okinawa (Japan) knows too well.

As is normal with dubious and dangerous agreements this has been marred with secrecy. It has not only totally disregarded Congress in a clear violation to the Constitution but also some government officials. For instance, the Colombian ambassador to the US, Carolina Barco, failed to answer simple questions regarding these so-called “negotiations” in a radio interview. It is important to clarify that these are impositions rather than negotiations since Colombia has never had any leverage in negotiations with the US and with the current Colombian government this could not be truer.

The Interior and Justice Minister, Fabio Valencia Cossio, has remarked that “[the agreement] does not authorize [US forces] to attack other countries, which is what the constitution says.” However, it is difficult to trust a Minister who thinks the Constitution is written on a white board and can be altered as the government deems necessary to remain in power. This so-called Justice Minister naturally does not have any objections regarding the immunity granted since he proposed immunity to Colombia's law makers. Nevertheless, this is also a sticky point for many reasons among them the cases of rape by US servicemen, which has already taken place in Colombia.

Colombian Foreign Minister, Jaime Bermúdez, noted Wednesday, after repeated calls for information, that “the objective [of this agreement] is the fight and the end of drug-trafficking and terrorism...and activities against the Colombian Constitution or international law would not be permitted.” Incidentally, the US has been losing the wars on drugs and terror since 1971 and 2001 respectively. More difficult still is to believe that the US will not utilize its bases in any way that serve its interests. After all, the CIA kidnapped and transported up to 100 terrorist suspects via European airports to third countries to face torture after 2001, in clear violations to these countries’ laws and international law.

Bermúdez forgets that the US has been heavily involved in these two fronts (drugs and terrorism) with limited success. The amount of cocaine entering the US has remained steady and coca production have decreased for other reasons, among them manual eradication. Successful operations against the FARC were possible thanks to US technology, but unfortunately the group is far from finished. Nevertheless, this is the strategy the US has taught the Colombian ruling class; perpetual wars will always serve their interests. Let's not forget that the guerrilla does not represent the same danger to civilians that paramilitaries and the army do with their massacres, para-politics scandals and extrajudicial killings.

Allowing US troops to freely use Colombian soil is not for the benefit of Colombians, but in the interest of the US. After all, the US has relied on its more than 700 military bases around the world to further and protect its economic interests, which by definition are against the majority of the population in these countres. Latin America - or the backyard of the US as the Monroe Doctrine determined in 1823 - is a land with vast natural resources, thus strategically important. More vital still as more independent governments sprout in the region. In consequence, at a time when the region has started to recover their dignity and commenced the formation of important regional blocks such as UNASUR, Colombia is bound to become more isolated.

This “cooperation agreement” - like the FTA, which will now be definately signed - is clearly not in the best interests of Colombia. The independence that other countries have achieved, not only militarily, but also economically in order to pursue more socially just societies is the independence that Colombia's traditional elite has decided to dismiss. Unfortunately, it seems the country would remain at the mercy of the interests of the US aligned with those of the Colombian elite for some time to come.

After thought: Colombian culture is not only cruel to innocent indigenous, Afro-Colombians and peasants, displaced peasants, the poor youth, the forgotten by society, bulls and roosters but now also to hippopotamuses!

Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian and lives in Hong Kong

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